The Clientele Strange Geometry

[Merge; 2005]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: chamber pop, britpop
Others: Belle & Sebastian, Galaxie 500, The Shins, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci

For a long time now, The Clientele have been more about realizing a sound than they have been about writing songs; and for a couple albums, they've not only gotten away with this, but it worked largely in their favor: we didn't mind not being able to tell the tracks apart on Suburban Light because we were satisfied to be enveloped in its gauzy dreamscapes and lose track of time. And in order to remain spellbound, we overlooked it when they sang lines like, "What goes up must come down/ You and I were hanging 'round/ Do you know what I mean?/ The sky is blue your eyes are green." In any case, we weren't bored – I could listen to the first ten seconds of "Reflections After Jane" forever.

Yet here, with Strange Geometry, there's a sense that they feel pressured, even impatient. Everything's louder, the guitar's vibrato has become a stubborn affectation, and the vocals have an urgent severity to them, all of these things outrunning any musical or lyrical development that would warrant such changes. The result is a collection of overzealous pop songs consisting largely of recycled ideas. Yeah, the strings are more conspicuous, and yeah, there is that fiery guitar solo in "Impossible" – but these are just crass, insulting tokens, shiny objects to distract you from the lyrics, which have suffered immensely at the expense of a counterfeit "growth."

Over the course of 12 tracks and 42 minutes, the word "night" or "evening" is used 23 times (not counting "darkness," "moon," "stars," "fading light," etc.). Foliage is mentioned 21 times, the narrator is incessantly complaining about the abstract, psychological things he "can't quite seem to" do, audibly overwhelmed at the poetic sublimity of his musings. There's "fog" and "smoke," "avenues" and "alleyways," multiple scenes of "faces in the crowd," specific times of day cited, "drifting" everything, "photographs," and of course the weather. The persistence of this subject matter is exhausting, and their claims of wonder, enchantment, frailty, and vulnerability are starting to appear a bit contrived. They've abandoned the thing we loved about them (instrumental subtlety) while emphasizing the thing we hated about them (lyrical immaturity).

Of course there are some touching moments on Strange Geometry; The Clientele just can't help that. "Losing Haringey" alone raised my rating from a 2.5 to a 3, despite indulging in almost every cliché I've criticized. Their skill is in exploiting our weakness for reverie, but the new stridence they've adopted makes the mechanisms behind this emotional manipulation too transparent, and we're left feeling embarrassed to have fallen for it so completely in the past. Disappointing though it may be for them to hear, we don't need them to "grow." Forcing it is the last thing they should be doing.

1. Since K Got Over Me
2. (I Can't Seem To) Make You Mine
3. My Own Face Inside the Trees
4. K
5. E.M.P.T.Y.
6. When I Came Home from the Party
7. Geometry of Lawns
8. Spirit
9. Impossible
10. Step into the Light
11. Losing Haringey
12. Six of Spades}

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